Netflix’s new true crime doc has already claimed the No.1 spot — and it’s shocking viewers

An image from The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix is one of the best streaming services for true crime with a library of engrossing documentaries that explore real-life stories so shocking that you’ll swear they must be fake. And the streamer’s latest true crime series is yet another winner to add to its growing list. 

“The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping” only debuted on Netflix on Tuesday (March 5), but it’s already made a significant splash and has rocketed into the most-watched list even claiming the coveted No.1 spot ahead of flagship shows like "Love is Blind" season 6 and the live-action adaptation of "Avatar: The Last Airbender." 

If you’re a true crime nut, then there’s little doubt that you need to stream “The Program” as soon as possible, but if you want to know a little more about adding this three-part docuseries to your watchlist, then read on below for all the details...

What is ‘The Program’ about?  

“The Program” is an unnerving exploration of the shocking events that took place at the Academy at Ivy Ridge, a now-closed school for troubled teens. The series is directed and narrated by Katherine Kubler, a former pupil of Ivy Ridge who has spent years trying to grapple with the trauma she experienced as a result of her treatment.  

On the surface, Ivy Ridge, located in upstate New York, sounds like a valuable educational institution. Parents who felt their kids were on the wrong path and in need of firmer discipline would send their children to the behavior-modification academy but as Kubler explains “This isn’t a normal school.” 

Ivy Ridge pitched itself as a disciplinary school that would set its pupils straight, but its methods were thoroughly medieval. The teens enrolled at the school were physically and psychologically abused, subjected to excessive punishments for minor things, and even endured cultlike tactics to ensure they didn’t rebel against those in authority. 

The parents were charged exorbitantly high tuition fees, and incentivized to keep their children enrolled even when they begged to be allowed to return home. “The Program” speaks to those who survived Ivy Ridge’s cruel program, and attempts to unravel who was responsible for and profiting from the shocking crimes committed within the academy walls. 

“The Program” doesn’t just stop at Ivy Ridge either, the exploitative “troubled teen industry” is also targeted, with Kubler showcasing a global web of interconnected institutions that subject young people to unimaginable cruelty and scarring conditions. 

‘The Program’ reviews - what do critics say?  

As noted, “The Program”  has only been available to watch on Netflix for a couple of days, so full reviews are a little thin on the ground. As of writing, there aren’t enough reviews for aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes to have awarded it a score. Although, based on the early buzz, this true crime doc could eventually rank quite highly. 

Nick Schager of The Daily Beast said the Netflix doc “presents a terrifying insider’s view of the institution and the lasting damage on those who attended” and praised the series for shining a light on a horrific injustice that had been previously ignored by those in power.   

CNN’s Brian Lowry felt the docuseries was a little unfocused, arguing it “careens about almost drunkenly from topic to topic” but did note it presents a “harrowing portrait of parents casting about for a way to help their kids and instead subjecting them to pain and trauma.”

Another positive writeup came from Joel Keller of Decider. “‘The Program’ does a good job of showing the harrowing conditions at the Academy at Ivy Ridge and other disciplinary schools, while also showing the resiliency of the people who were sent there and endured those conditions,” said Keller. 

Should you stream ‘The Program’ on Netflix? 

If you’ve watched any of Netflix’s previous true crime docuseries, then you probably know exactly what you’re getting with “The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping”. Each 60-minute episode is packed with shocking revelations, harrowing personal accounts and a couple of unforeseen twists to keep you engaged and hitting that “play next episode” button afterward. 

“The Program” doesn’t appear to be reinventing the true crime genre, but as this type of content continues to be wildly popular with streaming audiences, that’s unlikely to be a dealbreaker for many potential viewers. 

This isn’t a doc that is going to cure anybody suffering from true crime burnout, but if you’re craving another compelling documentary that will have you gripped and more than likely despairing at humanity's capacity for cruelness, “The Program” is a must-watch new Netflix show. And it’s not the only new show to watch this week

More from Tom's Guide

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.